MGM // 1990 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 10th, 2006
How deep do lies go?
This deep! (Judge David Johnson holds his hands two feet apart.)
Everybody Wins is from an original screenplay by Arthur Miller (loosely based on one of his short plays) that stars Nick Nolte (Hotel Rwanda) as private investigator Tom O'Toole and Debra Winger (Forget Paris) as his tormented and mysterious client, Angela Crispini.
O'Toole is a renowned investigator known for tackling wrongful convictions and it is his reputation that first lands him a call from Angela. She has taken on the case of a young man named Felix, recently convicted for the brutal murder of a wealthy and powerful doctor. Angela, however, is convinced Felix is innocent, and claims to have inside knowledge about the crime. But prying that knowledge from her loopy brain will take great skill.
O'Toole, at first reluctant to take the case, eventually relents because of two things: a) he comes to believe that Angela is on to something and he might have a shot at taking down the D.A., with whom he has feud, and b) he's horny. Angela turns on the charm and quickly embroils the investigator into a torrid affair, despite the misgivings of O'Toole's concerned sister and Angela's less-than-flattering reputation as the town slut.
But there's no going back now. O'Toole is neck-deep in the investigation, and as he paws through the inconsistencies of the case and the cryptic clues that he's able to tease from Angela, he's introduced to a bevy of bizarre characters, including Jerry (Will Patton, Armageddon), the oddball with Messianic tendencies who quickly becomes suspect number one. The truth lies somewhere amid this tangled mess, and O'Toole is blindsided by how far up the malfeasance climbs.
Everybody Wins is a film that piled on layer after layer of oddball characterization and plot twists, seemingly setting the stage for a big, satisfying reveal, but ultimately fizzles out in a disappointing anti-climax. It's a shame, because this film was not short of interesting players and there seemed to be potential for a winning narrative. Alas, the flick blew its wad early and coasted for the final 20 minutes or so to an unsatisfying conclusion.
Promises were made for widespread corruption, and indeed the story fulfills much of these, but it stops short of seeing these things resolved. I suppose that's the point, leaving the audience dangling, wanting more, or maybe making a statement of "life's not fair" or something to that effect. But the momentum is unmistakably drained at a certain point, and the hint of fireworks to come never materializes.
I've got mixed feelings about the performances. Nolte did the salty P.I. well enough, but I never bought his almost instantaneous affair with Angela. He's a widower and so presumably hasn't been in a relationship for a while, but aside from a pervasive case of blue balls, I don't see any reason for his over-eager roll in the hay. Angela is whacked out and her town rep is far from beneficial, plus there's the small fact that she's his client and somewhat involved with a brutal murder. Then again, she wears a lot of cleavage-revealing tops and O'Toole admits to his friend that he has to stop "thinking with his dangle." Still, the relationship doesn't work, and it's a cornerstone of the plot.
Debra Winger shoulders the heaviest of the dramatic burden and her performance bordered on the overwrought. Yeah she's playing a crazy person, with hints at multiple personalities, but I can only take so much screaming and hyper-kinetic gesticulating. The woman was a spasm. Just as weird, but was more subdued, was Will Patton as Jerry. He plays a major role in revealing the extent of the in-town corruption, but, like Angela, his character is too out-there to wrap my head around -- just way surreal, with seemingly no point to the wackiness. That about sums up my feelings about the film, too.
The film receives a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture quality is decent, though color levels appear modest and washed out. Sound is courtesy of a 2.0 stereo mix. Zero extras.
Some nifty ideas can be found in this character-driven mystery, but the mystery itself is blown too early and fails to deliver a satisfying denouement. And Winger was too nuts. At best, mediocre.
Sadly, not everybody wins.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R